Innovation Lessons from an Unlikely Source.

By Kerry Roberts

Imagine you are an investor or marketing executive and you’re in a meeting listening to a business proposal that sounded something like this:

  • “It’s a video game, but only available for portable / phone units, not for the gaming consoles which make up most of the market.”
  • “The main characters are these birds, but they are extra funny see, well because they’re  . . . angry”.
  • “The birds need an enemy?   Right, well since swine flu epidemic is sweeping the globe (we’re back in 2008 by the way), how about we make the enemies pigs?.”
  • “What’s the purpose?  Well, the nasty pigs keep trying to steal the Angry Birds’ eggs so they use a sling shot to defend their eggs.” 

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I didn’t get it either – now I feel that I’m the only one not playing the game these days.  Certainly true in my own home where my 4 & 5 yr old sons as well as my soon to be 40yr old husband all fight for a turn.  Why is it that some completely off-the-wall ideas become smash hits when it might appear the odds are stacked against them?  Here’s a few stats on the game’s success to date:

  •       Over 50million downloads make it the #1 paid mobile download.
  •       Created by Rovio out of Finland, a company that was recently valued at $284 million (and Angry Birds is their one trick pony)
  •       Invading pop culture: Recently made fun of on Saturday Night Live and Conan O’Brien invented a live version for his stage.
  •       A cartoon movie named “Rio” based on Angry Birds characters is in movie theaters now to delight young and old audiences.


While I think that luck has something to do with the success of something pretty unexplainable like Angry Birds – consider this in terms of their pretty basic formula for success:

  1. TIME IT RIGHT: exploiting a surge in mobile technology (the i’s, smarts, androids).
  2. MAKE IT SIMPLE:  the game is based on physics so it’s intuitive and fundamental, yet they have found a way to design it such that my 4 yr old can feel a sense of accomplishment in the first few levels, and my husband (hours later) unlocking new levels.
  3. HAVE FUN:  We could all use a little break in our lives and Angry Birds has capitalized on the ‘portable break’.  There is a lot of ‘heavy’ news these days between the economy, weather and wars – Angry Birds provides a mini-vacation from reality.
  4. KEEP IT FRESH:  They have occasion based versions (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day) so they continuously introduce a new experience to stay relevant.

Looking back at these 4 principles, they feel intuitive tenets of innovation.  As you consider your next Product launch, perhaps in addition to the typical Purchase Intents, Trial and Frequency Measure perhaps take a step back and consider how you’ll manage Timing, Simplicity, Fun and Relevance for your consumers.